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The public as projection

Christian Morgner (School of Media, Communication and Sociology, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 23 December 2020

Issue publication date: 4 May 2021




To develop a new conceptualisation of the public particular emphasis is placed on later developments in the work of Niklas Luhmann using theoretical terms such as medium, form and observation.


Current theoretical approaches conceptualise the public domain as a sphere, field or system, and theorists disagree about the range of meanings of the term public. While acknowledging that diversity of meanings, this paper seeks to avoid the limitations imposed by figures such as sphere, field or system by invoking the sociological theory developed by Niklas Luhmann.


Building on Luhmann’s work, the public is conceived here as (connection) medium and projection.


The paper draws on a range of diverse phenomena to illustrate the wider scope of this conception and its potential application, including public interactions, the transformation of texts as publications, audience formation, the role of media communication and the concept of traffic. In so doing, the paper contributes to the development of system theory as well as to a wide-ranging theory of the public.



The author thanks the anonymous peer reviewers for their comments and Michael King for his comments on an earlier draft of the paper.


Morgner, C. (2021), "The public as projection", Kybernetes, Vol. 50 No. 4, pp. 929-941.



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